Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Out of Japan, for Real


It's been more than 2 months since I left Japan and returned to the Philippines. Just 3 days ago, my residence card expired. This means, I'm completely, irreversibly out of Japan.

I'm still looking for a job and still looking for an apartment. There are days when I get frustrated. I'm 30 and I'm jobless and homeless for the first time in my life. A few more weeks of being like this and I'll be broke. (Thankfully, I got a husband now to feed me at least.) It's also not easy reestablishing friendships so I mostly spend my days playing with my chubby niece.

There are just two things that I still have difficulty adjusting to. The public transportation in the Philippines sucks the energy out of me. Traffic is horrible, the buses are terrible and the train system is just pure horror. Whenever I take public transport, I miss Japan.

Then there's the lifestyle change due to economic reasons. I wasn't living grandly in Japan but my life was really comfortable. Back here is a different story. Every peso counts. Every cent counts. Partly because I don't have a job yet. And largely because living in the Philippines seems more expensive than in Japan. Whenever I have to spend on something, I miss Japan.

All these things sound bleak but I'm actually okay most of the time. Surprisingly, I don't regret leaving Japan where I have an apartment, a job and friends. I'm happy to be in familiar surroundings. I'm happy that I can strike conversations with strangers. I'm happy I can easily get what I want from the supermarket. I'm happy I can attend church minus the Japanese translation. I'm happy I can  have my favorite comfort food again. I'm happy to be back. And I'm saying this even though I don't have a job yet or a home. It just feels good to be home.

All the apprehensions I had before leaving were gone. I'm in the Philippines. I'm out of the orderly and comfortable Japan. And, I'm okay.

PS: This will be probably my last post on this blog. But if you still have questions that I can help you with, feel free to send me a message. 

PPS. Someone asked me if I'm really homeless and jobless. In a way I'm jobless and homeless but not in a depressing way. I just had to find a job and a house when I moved back to the Philippines. It's like starting over again. :)

Friday, March 11, 2016

3 Things to Know About Hamamatsu

The Act Tower in Hamamatsu and Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka
photo credit:

Here's a recent email I got from someone who's coming to work in Japan:

Hello Faye!

I'll be coming to Japan this April. I've been hired by Interac and I will be assigned in Hamamatsu. I was glad to find your blog. It was really helpful. 

I just like to know what other things should I know about Hamamatsu? I haven't heard of this city before so any information would really help. 



I'll post my response to her email just in case other people are curious about Hamamatsu City. It's not as popular as Tokyo and Osaka so I understand the slight apprehension.

I could list a lot of things about Hamamatsu but I think here's the top 3 things you should now:

1. Hamamatsu is a windy city. 

Being windy is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Hamamatsu. Because of the wind, winters feel a lot more colder than the actual temperature. There are also days when the wind feels and sounds too much. On my first year in Hamamatsu, I had trouble sleeping on windy nights. The wind literally howls. I was also afraid that my rooftop would be stripped by the wind. Eventually, I learned to sleep in the midst of the disturbing winds.

On some windy days, cycling and walking would be a challenge. I was almost afraid that the wind can carry me. Just be prepared for the winds is what I'm saying.

2. Hamamatsu has a considerable population of Brazilians and Asians. 

When you arrive in Hamamatsu, you'd notice immediately the Brazilian and Asian population. They're always around the station so it's easy to see them. As of 2015, there are more than 25,000 foreigners in Hamamatsu. Half of them are Brazilians. More than a quarter are Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indonesians and Peruvians. There are many factories in Hamamatsu that employ foreigners. Hence, the foreign population. As for the presence of the Brazilians, they're mostly of nikkei descent. This means they were children or grandchildren of Japanese people who intermarried in Brazil.

Because of the foreign population, Japanese residents are used to seeing gaijins. Foreigners are not as rare as when I stayed in Iwate, Kochi or Okayama. For a foreigner, it's actually comforting to know that there are other foreigners in the area.

3. Hamamatsu is in a good, accessible location.  

Hamamatsu is bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the south and the Akiha mountains in the north. It is blessed with nature. For someone who loves the outdoors like me, it's a great place to live. It is also a great starting point when travelling domestically. It's halfway through the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka. It's near Nagano for skiing and Izu for swimming. It's also accessible from Nagoya Airport and there are three bullet train lines that pass by Hamamatsu. If you're planning to travel around Japan, Hamamatsu is a great place to be in.

Other things to note that may or may not be helpful:

  • Hamamatsu is known for the gyoza, unagi, tangerine and green tea. 
  • It's also a musical city. Concerts happen all-year round. 
  • A number of companies are headquartered in Hamamatsu like Roland, Photonics, Yamaha and Suzuki, Because of this, there are plenty of company English-teaching jobs
  • It has a direct bus service going to Nagoya Airport. 
  • There's a big festival that happens during the Golden Week. It's worth participating in. 
If ever you've been assigned in this city, don't be scared, It's a safe and a well-populated city. It may not be as exciting as the big cities but it's not inaka. You'll enjoy it here. I hope. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

FAQ's on Travelling in Japan

Mt. Fuji in spring
photo credit: investopedia

Here are the questions I receive frequently on email. They are about travelling in Japan.

For other FAQ's about Japan, check these posts:
FAQ's on Teaching English in Japan
FAQ's on Working in Japan
FAQ's on Living in Japan

1. Is Japan an expensive place to visit? 

If you compare Japan to other Asian countries, it is comparatively expensive. However, if you compare it to Australia, NZ, North America and Europe, it is relatively affordable.

Accommodation is the most expensive thing you'll spend on when you visit Japan. Unlike in other countries, Japanese hotels base their rates on the number of people not on the rooms.

Food is affordable. There are many tourist spots that are free. For transportation, there are various passes that you can avail for cheaper travel.

Here's a more detailed answer: How Much Money to Visit Japan? 

2.When is the best time to visit? 

Spring is the the most recommended time to visit because of the cherry blossoms. However, this is also the busiest time. March to early May are the peak months for tourism.  Autumn is also great for sightseeing. The autumn leaves are as lovely as the cherry blossoms, for me. This season is shorter though. It usually starts late November to mid-December.

If you want to do winter sports, January to mid-February is a great time to go. The snow is powdery and perfect for skiing and snowboarding.

3. What are the best places to visit? 

Most Japanese recommend Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo as the must-see places in Japan. Kyoto and Nara are historical places while Tokyo is the captial.

If you are pressed for time, concetrate on the area of Kyoto-Nara and Osaka. Another alternative is Tokyo, Yokohama, Nikko and Kanagawa.

However, if you have plenty of time, other places are worth a visit too. Consider visiting Nagano especially in winter. (It's my favorite place in Japan, by the way.) Hokkaido during the lavender season and snow festival is spectacular.

4. How can I make my trip cheaper? 

I often get this question and it's quite hard to answer. I don't know how much you're willing to go cheap. But if you're like me who can get as "cheap as possible," consider these tips:

  • Sleep in internet shops
  • Take the local trains esp if the Juhachi Kippu is available.
  • Focus on the free tourist spots
  • Don't splurge on food. 

5. What are the best festivals to see?

My favorite Japanese festival is Hamamatsu Festival, of course. But that's just me because I live in Hamamatsu. Aside from this, the Snow Festival in Hokkaido is simply amazing. There's also Nebuta Festival in Aomori, Gion Festival in Kyoto and the risque Kanamara Festival (Steel Phallus Festival) in Kanagawa.

6. How can I get a tourist visa? 

There are 67 countries whose citizens can visit Japan without a visa. Here's the list: Exemption from Japanese Tourist Visa 

If you're country is not there, you have to check the Japanese Embassy in your country about requirements to get a visa.

For Filipinos, here's the process; How to Sponsor a Japanese Tourist Visa

7. Aside from sushi, what food should I try? 

Sushi is not the only Japanese food you should try. Other not-so-famous Japanese food are natto, green tea ice cream, various-flavored Kitkats, and mochi.

Japan is a great country to explore anytime of the year. There are modern cities and historical towns. There are amazing natural spots  and impressive structures. And there's the unusual and strange Japanese culture.

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